With Summer Grant, John Branch ’16 Helps Find Poverty Solutions

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John Branch ’16 at Innovations for Poverty Action, a nonprofit that researches solutions to global poverty

In his second summer interning with Innovations for Poverty Action, John Branch ’16 is researching many unique ways in which impoverished people are improving their lives and their communities.

Innovations for Poverty Action, founded by a Yale economist in 2002 in New Haven, Conn., has an international network of more than 200 experts (primarily academics) and 500 staff who are analyzing the best solutions to reduce global poverty. The organization uses its findings to advocate for the most effective policies.

Branch, who is working with the organization’s communications department, spends his days reading reports by researchers on anti-poverty interventions in places like Bangladesh and Uganda. He summarizes the articles for policymakers, reporters and the general public. A reporter for the Bowdoin Orient and the Bowdoin Globalist, and a history and government major, Branch is interested in journalism, international policy and development. “I thought this organization offered me a good opportunity to learn about current research in the [international development] field,” he said.

To support his summer internship, Branch has a Strong/Gault Social Advancement Internship Grant, which supports Bowdoin students who want to pursue internships with businesses, public agencies or nonprofits that serve economically underdeveloped areas. The grant is part of Career Planning’s funded internship program, which provides financial support to many students each summer so they can accept internships around the world.

Bowdoin Students, Summer 2014
bowdoin mapTo see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.
After a positive experience with Innovations for Poverty Action last summer, Branch said he wanted to return to continue learning about the evolving field of international development. Much of the current research in this area is turning up surprising results. “Conventional wisdom is changing quickly,” he said.

One of the organization’s most important contributions has been its discovery of the best method to keep children in school. In parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, poor children contend with long walks to class, sick parents or the inability to pay for tuitions, books and uniforms. One of the biggest reasons behind poor school attendance is poor health, however. IPA’s researchers have found they can do more to improve school attendance by paying for deworming pills than paying for books or tuition. “This is by far the most cost-effective way of increasing attendance,” Branch said. “The [children are] so much healthier, and it’s so much easier to go to school and do well at school when you’re healthy.”

Branch is currently working on summarizing an article that looks into a system in Uganda that allows constituents to send texts to politicians. “[The report] finds that people in marginalized communities are able to communicate better with politicians this way than through traditional channels,” Branch said. “I think this one’s really interesting because, as the [authors] mention in the paper, it sort of bucks the usual ideas that technological innovations benefit the privileged disproportionately.”

Although Branch hasn’t yet traveled to the places he’s learning about, he said he plans to. He’s open to different careers in international development — perhaps as a journalist, perhaps working for a nonprofit — and he believes that his experience at IPA will help him better understand the regions he hopes to work in one day. “I am glad I am doing this first,” he said, “because if I end up doing nonprofit work, it’ll be good to have the confidence that what I am doing is productive and helping people.”

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